There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an incurable, auto-immune disease, not a lifestyle disease. T1D accounts for roughly 10% of the almost 400 million global cases of diabetes and people with Type 1 are insulin-dependent for life. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly use insulin, also known as insulin resistance, and can often be treated with diet, exercise, and medication.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
T1D is a chronic, autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This attack leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organ systems. When we eat, our bodies break down complex carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel we need. The pancreas releases insulin that acts as a kind of key to unlock the cells, allowing glucose to enter and be absorbed. Without fuel, cells in the body cannot survive. In addition, excess glucose can make the bloodstream too acidic, resulting in diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal if not treated. People with T1D must inject or pump insulin into their bodies every day to carefully regulate blood sugar.
T1D is neither preventable nor curable and while its cause is unknown, studies prove that T1D results from a genetic predisposition together with an environmental trigger.
Living with T1D is a full-time balancing act requiring constant attention to avoid acute, life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or the long-term damage done by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Blood sugar levels must be monitored either with finger pricks or a continuous glucose monitor. Insulin doses must then be calculated based on activity and stress levels, food intake, illness and additional factors. These calculations are rarely perfect resulting in a tremendous emotional and mental burden for both patient and caregivers.